Exeter awaits DNR arrival

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

City not sure what will come of default

The city of Exeter is awaiting the arrival of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources after defaulting on its bypass elimination agreement with the organization in April.

Paul Duncan,wastewater treatment plant supervisor and operator, said the city has forwarded to DNR its decision and the options the city had, and now, it's just a waiting game.

"The next step is for DNR to do an economic survey of our customers in the city to see where we fall with the rest of the state," he said. "That will determine if there's any grant money available and how much money people in the city can pay."

Because of old piping systems and manholes, Exeter's wastewater plant has too much rainstorm runoff water passing through its system, and by a DNR mandate, must stop the diversion of wastewater from any portion of its facility into waters of the state.

When heavy rains cause overflows in the plant, Duncan said the water is chlorinated, then dechlorinated, before being put in a tributary of Flat Creek. While the water is chlorine-treated, it bypasses much of the rest of the plant's filters, which goes against the DNR request.

"A few years ago, it was easier to get grant money and we could have gotten assistance with updates," Duncan said. "We would need almost 100 percent grant funding because the city is struggling to pinch every dollar to comply and get things done."

Duncan said he is not sure when DNR will come to Exeter, or what the outcome of the economic study will be.

"We have really good representatives in the city and I worked with the mayor for years trying to find a way to comply with the agreement, and we just couldn't find a way," he said. "Our representatives understand we are an economically-depressed township and it's a catch 22 because they couldn't have picked any of the other options."

The fear among city officials and residents is that DNR will hike rates, which could lead to more nonpayment of bills within the city.

According to Myrna Eisenbraun, city clerk, there are about 245 wastewater customers, and on any given month, about 15 percent do not pay their bills on time. Officials say if wastewater rates go up, they believe rates of nonpayment will also trend upward.

In April, Duncan submitted three options to city officials concerning the agreement.

The first option involved updating the city's sanitation lines and manholes to eliminate any excess water entering the plant. Duncan said the projected cost of such a project would be about $2.5 million and lead to a $100 per month increase in customers' bills.

The city would have to pay about $250,000 per year over the next 10 years to complete the project, and Duncan said that does not account for an expected 22 percent increase in costs over that period of time.

The second option was for the city to boost capacity at the plant, which would entail modernization, which could include building an oxidation pond and converting to ultraviolet lights.

Duncan said the projected cost of this plan would be about $2 million, and would lead to an $80 increase per month to customers' bills.

The final option for the city, and the option officials eventually settled on, was to default on the agreement with the DNR.

According to Duncan the wastewater plant normally sees about 25,000 to 35,000 gallons of water per day run through its system. However, when a heavy rain falls, that number jumps up to about 975,000 gallons. Without bypassing that excess water, the wastewater plant would be flooded because it does not have enough capacity.

The Exeter Sewer Department has a total budget of $117,300 for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

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